This series is sponsored by Baby Lock. For over 40 years, Baby Lock has been dedicated to the love of sewing by creating machines for sewing, embroidery, quilting and serging – all with ease-of-use, high quality and a touch of elegance.
It doesn’t take long to realize that sewing with knits is easy and very forgiving. Once you get a hang of the construction (Miranda‘s covering how to construct a knit tee today) it all comes down to the finishing details. The small touches like hemming and top stitching are hands down the most important thing when it comes to making your garment look professional. Just learning a few simple tips can totally make the difference between a homemade looking garment and completely professional looking one. I sewed knits for years on just my sewing machine, and now do almost all my knit sewing on a serger, so I’ll talk about all the many finishing techniques for whatever machine you happen to be using. I’ll also talk about and introduce my new Diana serger, and show a few of its magical powers like coverstitching and flatlocking.i
A word on needles and feet. It’s really important with knit to use the right needles. If you don’t (and trust me I have), then you end up with these lovely little holes along the the seam line . Use stretch or ball point needles! Also, a walking foot can be so helpful when sewing knits, especially if you’re using a sewing machine. A walking foot helps the fabric feed evenly, so it helps eliminate lots of unwanted stretching and wonkiness. If you’re having drama with a particular fabric or finish, try changing your needle or using a walking foot! It might solve your problem!
Finishing Neck Openings:
A neckband is definitely the most common neckline finish, and certainly the method I use the most. It’s simple–you fold your band together lengthwise and pin it and your neck opening in quarters. You then match the quartered band to the quartered neck opening and stick a few pins in between. Serge or zig zag along the raw edges and then turn up and press well. Top stitching is optional, although I highly recommend it.
Although I don’t personally use this technique very much, many people just simple turn the neck under and usually zig zag it down. In this picture I actually serged the edge for stability, and then used a straight stitch because the neck opening was plenty big and wasn’t going to be stretched. I recommend stabilizing with soft knit tape along the inside before turning when using this method, as it helps to keep it evenly folded and makes a much neater stitch.
Binding the neckline is another option, and this is often used on children’s wear for a slightly more sporty look. I like to use this method on lightweight knits, as thicker more stable knits can get pretty bulky with a bound edge. To bind a hem you’ll cut a length of fabric (on the bias optionally, it lies flatter but isn’t necessary) that is twice the height of your desired binding plus a generous 1/4″ for turning, and about 7/8’s the length of your neck opening. You sew the short ends of your binding together RST and then fold lengthwise WST. Pin to the WRONG side of your neck opening, raw edges aligned, and then serge or zig zag. Flip the binding over to the right side of the fabric (enclosing the seam allowance), pin well and then topstitch down. (see the flatlock example at the bottom as well for a bound neckline).
Finishing sleeves and hems:
The first and obvious option is to leave them unhemmed. Knits are wonderful that way. They curl up quite a bit, and sometimes that can be just the look you want.
The above are examples of sewing machine finishes (again, REMEMBER to use a stretch or ball point needle!) From top to bottom: stretch stitch, zig zag, overlock stitch and a double needle. Like I said before, I sewed with knits for years without a serger, and so I can tell you that not having one is no excuse for avoiding knits! The stretch stitch I’m not a huge fan of because it’s very slow and also not very neat looking to me, but all the rest are good options that produce nice results (I used the overlock stitch frequently!)
One of the most important things I can tell you concerning hemming knit fabric, is that although I hardly ever (never?) pin while hemming, I ALWAYS press the hems up before sewing. This is so important if you want a professional looking hem! If you don’t, the fabric will likely slip and shift and your hem will be wonky and inconsistent. Another thing I want to mention is how useful knit stay tape is when working with lightweight tissue jerseys (or any knit!), no matter what your hemming method is. Some knits are just so light and stretchy that any hemming method stretches and destorts them. Knit stay tape will save your life! It gives just enough stability to provide for a nice and neat stitch, but it’s still stretchy! Before I found the above knit stay tape I used bias cut strips of fusible knit interfacing, which also works well and you can find it at Joann’s.
The truth about double needles, is that they’re awesome. IF they work. Double needles can be really finicky depending on your fabric, and often one side or both skips stitches–especially if you sew just a little beyond the fold. Above you can see that for the sleeve hem I had to go over it at leasty twice because it had skipped so many stitches. Sometimes they are a dream, and sometimes, for no apparent reason, they don’t work at all. That’s when I would resort to double lines of straight stitching, which I’ll address later. My best advice for trouble shooting a double needle, is to make sure they are good and sharp (change them out frequently), and then bust out that knit stay tape and stabilize stabilize stabilize!
Let’s move onto serger finishes. Of course you can always just simply serge the edge (see the bottom ruffle for the no-hemming example), or above are two examples of the very common rolled hem–the top one being stretched while serging to produce what’s called a “lettuce” or ruffled edge. The rolled hem looks great on light weight knits and long maxi skirts or dresses, and I think the lettuce edge is very sweet and feminine on little girl’s clothes.
And then there’s the coverstitch! My Babylock Diana serger is both a serger and coverstitch machine in one, and the coverstitch function is so cool in makes me completely weak in the knees. The Diana can do a single chain stitch and then double (in two different widths) and triple coverstitches. What’s so cool about these stitches are that they are a straight, neat and even on top, but serged on the bottom creating the ultimately professional and functional garment! I can tell you that my heart skipped a beat the first time I tried it out, what a thrill! Coverstitching is what you will find on all ready-to-wear clothing, and it’s a great option for all types of knits and all types of projects.
And lastly, although I shouldn’t even mention this as a viable option because it really isn’t a great choice, is the normal straight stitch. I once had a sewing mentor show me how to ever-so-slightly add a little tension while you sew, and she said that would be enough from keeping the stitches from snapping. She was sometimes right. Like I mentioned before, any time my double needles were giving me grief (which was all too often) I would in desperation turn to straight stitching with added ease. The result MOST of the time would be a sadly snapped hem that I would eventually have to re-do.
But sometimes it would work: when the garment is over-sized and not likely to be stretched very much you can get away with it, and then sometimes if you add enough ease you’ll get lucky with an intact hem. The trick is to very gently tug on the fabric as it feeds under the presser foot. This takes some time to get a feel for, and really I only recommend if you are out of other options.
Adding bands to sleeves and hems is another great way to finish your garment, and often it’s the easiest of the options. To add an arm or hem band, cut a rectangle of fabric that is twice the height of your desired band plus 1/4″ seam allowance, and the same width of the opening you are sewing it too. I just lay down my shirt inside-out, and then trim my rectangle to the same size as the sleeve or hem. Then pin it to the opening aligning your raw edges, sew and flip to the right side and press. (Sometimes I topstitch as well!)
And now to share what I call the “faux band”, which I happily discovered by accident while getting to know the Princess. You fold the fabric under the wrong side, and then back to the front like an accordian, leaving a small scant 1/4″ overhang (as if you were doing a blind hem). You sew on the wrong side of the fabric, catching the fold, and then unfold it and BAM. What looks like a band.
It is SO FAST, and I’m pretty excited by it. The only thing to remember is that when cutting you’ll want to add enough to allow for the process on the ends of your sleeves or hem. Isn’t that cool??
Topstitching is to sewing what guacamole is to my taco. It makes everything else sing.
From top to bottom: a normal straight stitch (for neckbands), a double needle, a double coverstitch, and a zig zag stitch.
For neck bands, I often do just a simple straight stitch (with ease!) close to the seam and in the seam allowance. This is one of the few times that I’ve never had a straight stitch break with knits–even my kid’s clothes that get stretch over heads frequently have held up well. I think it has to do with the fact that you’re sewing in the seam allowance which adds stability.
A double needle or coverstitch also looks great, and you can either sew just under the seam in the seam allowance, or straddle the seam–anything goes,and I’ve seen it all when it comes to topstitching. Another nice little touch is to topstitch the shoulder seams as well as the neckline.
And lastly, let’s take a looksy at the flatlock stitch which is both a construction stitch as well as a decorative one. I have seen this used on both the serged looking side (very sporty), as well as the ladder stitched side, and I think both look great. Something important to note with a flatlock stitch–it must always be used on the edge of the fabric, so if you’re trying to sew a hem or patch pocket etc, you must fold the fabric up so that you’re on the edge. Miranda has a great tutorial illustrating the flatlock technique.
Wowza, weren’t ready for all that? Well don’t you worry, it’ll be here waiting for you when you are. I want this, like Miranda’s knit fabric guide, to be a thorough reference for you next time your sewing with knits! You definitely won’t want to miss Miranda‘s companion post about tee shirt construction techniques today, and tomorrow we’ll talk about some really fun variations on the basic tee (maxi skirt and dresses!)
More Stretch Yourself: